Paganism: Ireland’s contemporary shining light

Lisa Jean O’Reilly speaks with two students at Trinity about their Pagan religion

In tough times, two Trinity students, whom I had the pleasure to virtually meet, see Paganism as their guiding light. In this unprecedented crisis I myself found a moment of sweet escape in learning about their Pagan beliefs. Like nothing I’ve ever heard of before, Paganism drew me in. Despite being a student of philosophy, in which I study the philosophy of religion, I surprisingly knew more about the incarnation of viruses than I did about Pagan beliefs up until this interview. Having spoken to Ralf Moore and Carla Kerr from Trinity’s very own Pagan Society, I think that I have just uncovered Ireland’s oldest and wisest secret: Paganism.

Amidst the chatter and din of this viral pandemic that has swept the world off its feet, perhaps you have found yourself feeling quite lost. It is difficult to keep in full spirits at the moment when the walls of your home have transformed into boundaries, but upon reading about Carla Kerr and Ralph Moore’s wonderful take on Paganism, perhaps you will feel less blue. Today, they chose to let you in on their beliefs, and discuss things like why they joined the Pagan community, who they have met through being a part of this religion, and what exactly it is that they believe.

Ralph Moore is a PhD student of Classical studies. Ralph moved here almost a decade ago from a small village near Norwich in the UK, in the pursuit of his undergraduate degree at Trinity, followed now by his PhD. Carla Kerr is undertaking her masters in English Language teaching, and is a fellow Irishwoman. Strictly speaking, neither Carla nor Ralph were born Pagan- although an element of discussion arose at our virtual table when this question was asked, as neither believe in any child being “born” a religion. “I don’t believe that a child can be ‘born’ a religion,” Carla affirmed, “there is always an element of choice involved.” Ralph agreed, not a born Pagan, but a chosen Pagan. He went on to explain why.

“I don’t believe that a child can be ‘born’ a religion […] there is always an element of choice involved.”

In a nutshell, Paganism is an umbrella term for a large group of religions that are outside of the field of Abrahamic religions- these being the wider known Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, whose foci centre around one God that takes human form. Their core beliefs include unity of people, and a love for the earth; elements that naturally exist within everybody.

Unlike these popular religions, Pagans believe in multiple Gods, who are very much open to subjective interpretation. Where Carla’s preference lies in the inspiration of ancient Gods like Apollo (whom she says is the God she has the closest connection with), Ralph believes more in Gods that do not reside in anthropomorphic (human) or zoomorphic bodies, but that can transform into such so as to communicate with us humans. His idea of a God is something more along the lines of a plane of energy.

Pagans also believe that multiple Gods exist in the world, independently of us – not for us. In other words, the purpose of such Gods is not solely to create us, or to watch us, or to guide us; they have agendas of their own. This is why they can be also viewed as a type of natural force, or natural law (like a physics law) that governs us, but that is not centred around us. Thus, Pagan Gods and ourselves are not connected in some extra or fundamental way, but are merely connected on the basis that we live in the same world.

At this point, I thought it might be interesting to ask Ralph what he thought of the traditionally Christian God, which is man-like in appearance. His reply left me transfixed: “I think that it has something to do with our understanding of Gods, because at the end of the day we would find it very difficult to connect with something that is not a human or an animal. I think it is just easier to believe in something that looks like you, even though on the inside that God could look very different.”

Carla believes that there are many Pagan-based beliefs scattered throughout our Irish culture, and that Paganism never left Ireland at all. If you can recall your Junior Cert history class, The Celts invaded Ireland in 500 BCE; that’s a whole 500 years before Jesus Christ came around. The Celts were Pagans, and they spread Celtic Paganism throughout Ireland. They believed that the Gods rested in the stars, and they worshipped the seasons and the weather.

“With a rich history of Paganism still living in our land, these beliefs and stories are that of our ancestors; they are in our blood.”

Further back again, long before the Celtic people gave Paganism a name, was Newgrange. Embedded in the earth in County Meath, Newgrange was built to worship the earth by people over 5,200 years ago. Its functional purpose was a tomb to bury the dead, but it was also much more than that. The building was meticulously crafted so as to align with the winter solstice at sun rise, on December 21 – every single year. On this day the sun aligns and fills the passageway down to the tomb, illuminating the whole structure. This was the first way that the Pagans managed to contact or connect with their Gods. Ireland’s Pagan past is strong and bountiful. Today, Paganism only tickles the outskirts of society.

Both Ralph and Carla have expressed to me their personal experiences of comfort and safety found in their Pagan beliefs and in their Pagan community. On at least two occasions, these Pagans have found solace in this. At this very strange and surreal time in Irish (and global) history, Paganism seems to be a universal light at the end of this tunnel; as its beliefs are accessible, humane and kind, and it contains an inexplicable warm energy that brings about great comfort. Paganism is also viewed as being at one or on the same level as other planes of existence, like heaven, that are outside of our space and time. Our reality is not to be compared to ideas such as heaven or hell like in some religions, but it is to be accepted just as it is, having elements of both, perhaps, within us.

Paganism’s Irish appeal seems to be innate. With a rich history of Paganism still living in our land, these beliefs and stories are that of our ancestors; they are in our blood. Paganism’s broad beliefs are welcoming too, and with an undefined rule-set it seems very easy to adopt some Pagan beliefs, just as Ralph Moore and Carla Kerr discovered for themselves. Times are changing, and if you want to, too, you can get in contact with Trinity’s Pagan Society for information on how to join.

Lisa Jean O’Reilly

Lisa Jean O'Reilly is an English Literature and Philosophy graduate and a former Online Editor of Trinity News.